Read about our past students' experiences in Guatemala!

Name: Melanie DeGuzman
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for Nursing in Guatemala
Major: Family Nurse Practitioner
Term Abroad: Winter program during graduate school

 

I am the daughter of Filipino immigrants. My parents individually emigrated to America because they wanted to have a better future for themselves. I visited the Philippines once prior to nurse practitioner school. I did not understand “poor,” until I went to the Philippines. My parents always engraved into the minds of my brother and I that we were lucky beyond comprehension and that everything we have is a blessing and could be easily taken away. When I became a nurse, I knew I had to give back on a global level somehow. Though I know that there were ample opportunities here in the United States to reach the impoverished, I felt that my calling needed to be beyond that.

When I entered my nurse practitioner program, I learned that my university participated in a study aboard, medical mission program to Guatemala. This opportunity, however, was only reserved for senior NP students. Surprisingly, that year, the requirements were changing. Within 4 months of beginning my NP program, I was informed that the study abroad program was going to open up to the “non-senior” students. That was it! I pulled money out of my savings and gave whatever I needed so that I could go.

While I was there in Guatemala, in February 2014, my best friend and maternal grandfather passed away in the Philippines. He died in an ambulance that was trying to get through dirt roads, across islands, to a large city hospital that was over an hour away. Unfortunately, it was simply his time and he died in the back of an ambulance in the presence of my cousins. His death was difficult for me. Being in Guatemala helped me heal from this loss. Guatemala is the very essence of poverty and I wished to touch those who were living in poverty. Though I was not completing a study abroad, medical mission in the Philippines, I was in a country where many old, grandfathers were struggling to live, probably had never seen an ambulance in their lives nor had ever had the opportunity to see a doctor when they were sick. Though I could not save my grandfather, I hoped that I could help someone else’s grandfather in Guatemala. I learned that I could do this! I cared for many elderly grandfathers that week and it lifted my heart.

The following year, February 2015, I was now a senior nurse practitioner student. I was not planning to go to go back to Guatemala because I did not want to be “greedy” with taking on this opportunity twice. However, I remembered my grandpa. I decided that a second trip was simply more giving of my heart and love to the people of Guatemala. I found the money a second time!

My study abroad, medical mission to Guatemala is really something that I hold close to my heart for several reasons. In addition to the trip being a way to honored my late grandpa, it was also a way for me to be an active member of the nursing community. Guatemala made me see and witness things that I had not yet been able to experience in the United States. For example, a mother with her 6 children, all of whom were severely malnourished, would sit across from me as I would listen to her stories about how she had been coughing for months and how each child had nearly every symptom of intestinal parasites. I was able to provide care to the whole, large family!

There were also many times that we did not have all the supplies we needed and this led to innovation. I recall a classmate of mine grabbing an old magazine she had and telling the patient to use this as a wrist splint. Once he got home, he would wrap it under his arm and secure it with an old sock or shirt sleeve. Guatemalan children were different than American children due to their severe malnourishment and their statures were so very small. Most 12-year-old children appeared to be only the size of an average six-year-old in the US. Yet, as much as I thought so many things were different, I also saw struggles and fears that were the same as any patient would fear in the United States. Guatemala was such a different world, but I realized everyone experiences the same emotions no matter where one lives.

My experience in Guatemala brought out the best in me as a person and as a health care provider. It made me more empathetic, culturally aware, and forced me to work as a teammate with classmates whom I never really had the chance to get to know prior to the trip. Guatemala was such a great mission. Participate in this study abroad program! You will never regret your choice to go and frankly, if I could, I would still go back again, and again, and again!

-Melanie DeGuzman, FNP

Name: Meredith Cronenwett
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for Nursing in Guatemala
Major: Family Nurse Practitioner
Term Abroad: Winter program during graduate school

 

Traveling to Guatemala on a nursing study abroad trip offered a perfect opportunity to practice newly acquired advanced skills as a nurse practitioner student. Before traveling to Guatemala, didactic learning took place in a classroom filled with guidelines and clinical decision making in hypothetical situations. In Guatemala, this learning came to life as my professor and I had the opportunity to collaborate and for me to learn not only what can be done for the special population we were visiting, but also what could be applied to patients in the United States. The opportunity was intense and offered a glimpse at the kind of partnership I would also form with my peers as I make my way out into the community at home as a new nurse practitioner. In remote communities in Guatemala, you will have the occasion to see unusual pathology and you will need to select treatment from limited options not normally utilized in the U.S. For this reason, clinical skills are sharpened and peer communication is enhanced. You will also have the chance to be closely mentored by your instructors.

Developing countries offer nurse practitioner students a unique opportunity to make a real difference and increase compassion for underserved patients. The trip will change your view of healthcare delivery back home and offer perspective to ward off provider burnout. While in Guatemala, your heart will become attached to the people and their struggles. You become more aware and develop confidence as a practitioner and when you return home you truly know that you can make a difference in the lives of those you treat. If you are even remotely considering this trip, make the necessary time and arrangements, as you will not regret your time abroad. Studying nursing abroad will help you become a new nurse practitioner who can better overcome obstacles. It was incredibly gratifying to return home knowing my skills, energy, and time really helped change lives. The trip left me with an overwhelming feeling of achievement and success.

-Meredith Cronenwett, BSN, RN, FNP- student

Name: Michael Stainton
Program: UMSL faculty-led program for Nursing in Guatemala
Major: Family Nurse Practitioner
Term Abroad: Winter program during graduate school

 

Very few experiences in my life have been matched by my trip to Guatemala. My thoughts of helping others and seeing another country prompted me to take the trip. It was difficult as a graduate student juggling school and family, but the benefit was more than worth the means and cost far less than its value. I believe life is short and opportunities present themselves in the strangest of places and toughest of circumstances. Running a tight schedule between school and work, I was worried about finding the time. But as it would turn out, the trip ran perfectly alongside my goal of becoming a Nurse Practitioner and ultimately moved me that much closer to becoming a great one. The 40 residency hours earned on the trip served well in that semester’s clinical requirements and the knowledge learned will continue to serve me for years to come.

Travel has always been known to broaden horizons. Cultural differences and perception can vary greatly across borders. Seeing how people live and work in Guatemala will give you a profound sense of appreciation and added insight into your own life. What we would consider the smallest of efforts are valued and returned tenfold, it is unlike anything I have ever seen. Guatemalans have so little financially, yet possess a great wealth in spirit that seems to elude even the best of us in the United State. It was truly a breath of fresh air in the reality of ongoing conflict and adversity against humanity seen so frequently these days. At the end of the week, I received more than I could have ever hoped to give. Take the trip and know it will change you forever.

-Michael Stainton, RN, FNP student